Marley lifted his head from the desk and looked around the library. It was mid-evening and buzzing with students. He collected his laser stylus and fold-up tablet, or flablet, and headed to the Quasar Bar to spend money and time.
Marley didn’t drink unless there was someone to drink with him. At the Quasar Bar he often found Insomniac Fluton, who was always full of his mad schemes. Recently he’d made Marley blow a month’s income on an app called FaceMash, which matched a photo of you to famous historical figures. Marley was sure it would liken him to Don Bero, hero of the Asteroid Wars. But no, apparently he was a spitting image of some guy named Pope Urban II.
“You know what I want,” he said to Garibaldi the bartender. Before he’d finished saying this Garibaldi had inserted a mug between his limp hands.
The beverage bubbled against his nose.
He had lost faith in himself. Halfway through his Engineering Degree he became a dropout. Now: three-quarters through his IT Support Certificate, he felt he was on a downward trajectory. IT Support had its warriors though: assisting a Borsk foaming at the mouth because its heart implant was malfunctioning; or calming an Octomaid who had wrapped its tentacles around you because something was missing from a 20,000-piece jigsaw.
“What’s up?” Garibaldi was polishing a beer glass, the same glass he had been rubbing for ten minutes.
“What’s not up?”
“I guess I should be thankful,” said Garibaldi, “If it wasn’t for all you misery-guts I’d be out of business.”
Marley managed a weak smile.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned around.
Insomniac Fluton stared back, eyes wide as usual, a result of too much Green Goat.
“Wakey wakey,” said Fluton, though Marley was staring right at him. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to test my app on you today.”
Marley yawned. “You should talk to Gaston Dimble, he knows his history. He’ll suggest people for your database.”
Fluton scraped a stool along the floor and put his hands on the bar. “You’ve got an exam don’t you?”
Garibaldi winked. “Our future IT Support Specialist. I look forward to you getting rid of all the viruses in here.” He swept his arm around the room.
“I don’t know,” said Marley. “I feel trapped. When my step-mother suggested it, it seemed like a good idea.”
“Go your own way,” said Fluton, “Place your soul on the interstellar barge of fortune, subject yourself to the quantum dice!”
“What does that mean?” said Marley. “No one makes any sense anymore.”
“Let me tell you something,” said Garibaldi, “No one in the Orion Arm ever did make any sense. And as you get older, people make less and less sense.”
“Until you’re completely insane!” said Fluton, mock-foaming at the mouth.
Marley took a sip. “Before I go completely insane, I want to know what else is in the galaxy, at least our region. IT Support may not necessarily bring me the opportunity. It might, but it might not.”
“IT will bring it to me,” said Fluton, “as soon as my app takes off.”
“Another Strangbrew please, Garibaldi. With a shot of Reticulum Rum. The resulting steamy mixture was known as a Fancy Fred: guaranteed for a good night’s sleep. Otherwise he would be up all night thinking about tomorrow.
“I think you’ve made a good decision,” Fluton lingered too long on ‘think’.
Garibaldi continued cleaning his glass. “The IT Support course covers everything, doesn’t it?”
Fluton raised his glass to Garibaldi. “The Bachelor of Arts of space degrees.”
Marley sat up straighter. “And what if it is? Computers are still not as reliable as we might have imagined they’d be 1,000 years ago. And they’re everywhere. They’re even inside some of us.” Marley was failing to motivate himself.
Garibaldi put down the glass.“I can’t wait for you to look at my accounts reconciliation system.”
“What he means,” said Fluton, “Is you’ll look after his stash.”
“What are you implying?” Garibaldi put his hand on his heart in mock pain.
“They haven’t covered money laundering” said Marley, almost smiling.
“If you want to keep drinking in here!” Garibaldi pointed at both Marley and Fluton. Then he looked at the other customers and lapsed into silence.
“Have you been in the hyper-turbulence simulator?” asked Fluton.
“Yes he has,” said Garibaldi, “And he shouldn’t have come to the bar after. Took me forever to clean up.”
“That’s a lie,” said Marley.
Garibaldi was trying not to laugh.
“Don’t believe him,” Marley said to Fluton. He put his head on his fist and gazed out the viewing glass. A SpaceBus lumbered overhead to Nutol, the largest aeroport in the Orion Arm.
The SpaceBus had probably come from one of the many stations orbiting Crete, or maybe even the Cretan Orbital Docking Platform for Interstellar Expeditions, known by locals as the Codpiece, because that’s what it looked like from the surface of Crete: a little dick in the sky. But it was actually really big. It just looked small from a large distance. Regardless, from the Codpiece you could get an Interplanetary Passenger Freighter to Knossos, or a HyperJet to another stellar system. Marley would be able to choose either should he graduate.
“Even if I pass Interspecies Liaison, I have to redo Server Assembly. I’m too clumsy. Too many cords.” His supervisor had given him his marching orders after tripping over a network cable which shouldn’t have been there.
He remembered the supervisor’s duck-like voice: “Do you check your surroundings?” A girl next to him had giggled. She had left the misplaced chord. He had giggled back at her but that only made things worse. The Instructor kicked him out of class.
Marley rubbed his head. A little red lump was still there where he had banged his head on the opposite cabinet.
“I can’t get the instructor’s voice out of my head.”
Garibaldi and Fluton looked at him forlornly. Garibaldi found another glass to polish and Fluton booted up his flaptop. Marley watched lunar golf on the Quasar Bar’s VT. He concentrated on ambient techno music coming from a speaker.
But the Network Instructor inside his head continued: “You call yourself homo sapiens? Don’t come back until you’ve had a full health assessment, psychological and physical.”
Marley groaned. Everyone would be watching him when he went back. Especially Elysia and the girl who laid traps.
He needed to have a full scan. He hadn’t done this, so he slurped down his Fancy Fred and headed back to his quarters.